Star King

by Jack Vance
Series: Demon Princes 1
Reviewed date: 2007 Oct 23
Rating: 4
160 pages
cover art

Star King is the first of the Demon Princes novels. The hero is Kirth Gersen. Not Keith Gersen, as the blurb on the back of the Daw paperback says. Oh well. At least Daw SF paperbacks are plentiful. They're probably my favorite line of books.

Kirth Gersen is a complex protagonist, but unlike a typical Vance character, he is not wholly self-centered. Orphaned, he was raised by his grandfather. His childhood consisted of training for a lifelong mission: to rid the galaxy of evil men. Gersen's grandfather left him a letter:

Actually the triumph [of good over evil] consists of two processes: first evil must be extinguished, then good must be introduced to fill the gap. It is impossible that a man should be equally efficacious in both functions. Good and evil, in spite of traditional fallacy, are not polarities, nor mirror images, nor is one merely the absence of the other. In order to minimize confusion, your work will be the destruction of evil men.

Gersen's first task is to find and kill the five pirate captains who operate in the Beyond, outside of the reach of the Oikumene. The first of these five Demon Princes that Gersen goes after is Attel Malagate. The true identity of Malagate "The Woe" is a jealously guarded secret. In Smade's Tavern on the desolate Smade's Planet, Gersen witnesses the murder of one Lugo Teehalt. The murder was ordered by Malagate, so Gersen follows the trail of the hitmen in an attempt to locate Malagate.

Gersen traces Malagate to the campus of Sea Province University on Alphanor. Malagate's alter ego is apparently an academic: but which one? Gersen's attempts to ferret out the identity of Malagate come up empty. At the same time, Gersen strikes up a romance with the university secretary, Pallis Atwrode. He becomes introspective, wondering whether he will ever have a normal life. If his life's work is to destroy evil men, then, as his grandfather told him, "you may never know a life of peace. However, I guarantee you ample satisfaction, for I will teach you to crave the blood of these men more than the flesh of woman." Gersen wonders if he ever had a real choice; his life's work was thrust upon him before he had the chance to decide for himself, and now he finds himself unable to deviate from the path his grandfather laid out.

Getting back to the matter at hand, Gersen narrows down the search for Malagate, and hatches an ingenious plan to learn Malagate's identity. Using the monitor filament from Teehalt's spaceship--which he stole on Smade's Planet--Gersen lures three university administrators out into the Beyond. They are searching for an uncolonized idyllic planet whose location is recorded only on Teehalt's monitor filament.

Gersen wins, of course. He has to. Well, he doesn't have to. This is a Jack Vance story, after all, and Vance would just as soon kill off his hero as let him win. That's what I love about Vance. He creates weird settings, populates them with complex characters that have their own motivations, and then doesn't force the characters to act in ways that are contrived to advance the plot. You never know quite what will happen.

Star King rates a solid four.

Archive | Search